July 29- August 1
Earlier in the summer we watched a documentary called “Our Provinces” that was made to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary. In it, the filmmaker traveled across the country visiting the places and people who make up modern Canada. In Nova Scotia, he featured the Hadhad family, immigrants who fled their home country of Syria and settled in the town of Antigonish. They were experienced chocolatiers whose factory was destroyed by war, and Canada provided a welcoming environment for them to rebuild the family business, Peace by Chocolate. When we discovered we’d be passing Antigonish on the way from Cape Breton Island to Halifax, we planned some candy shopping. Driving down Bay Street we nearly missed the tiny chocolate shop hut next to their home. Upon entering we tried some samples and bought a large assorted box to take on the road with us. They were very happy to hear we had come from so far and decided to stop by. Currently they ship products throughout Canada, but as of December 2017 they are looking into shipping to the USA soon. The rest of the drive to Halifax was uneventful other than the rock that a minivan kicked up right into our windshield. We’d spend the rest of the trip with an annoying little chip directly in the driver’s line of sight.
A couple more hours down the road we entered the largest metropolitan region in Atlantic Canada. Halifax and its surrounding environs is home to around 400,000 people, which is just over 40 percent of the provincial population. As such, it’s the only part of Nova Scotia that could be described as bustling. After so many days of tiny villages and lonely roads, it was quite a change to burst through a fog surrounding the Macdonald Bridge and see a modern city skyline. Our lodging for the next two nights was the centrally located Hampton Inn. It may have lacked the charm we’d been experiencing at campgrounds and “mom-n-pop” motels, but it made up for it in comparatively luxurious comfort. We also reconnected with Nick’s parents for the first time since Yarmouth, as they had been exploring the western end of Nova Scotia at their own speed.
After settling in and enjoying our first quality shower since Chéticamp, we took a walk around the city. Central Halifax is located on a peninsula and draped over a large hill, with a steep incline between the harbor and the upper reaches. At the very top lies the landmark Citadel, site of military protection since the early days of Halifax. The place to be on that evening was the waterfront, as our stay unintentionally coincided with the visit of the Tall Ships. More than 30 large sailing vessels were docked along the boardwalk lining the harbour, it made a rather impressive sight. The entirety of the boardwalk contains museums, restaurants, playgrounds and vendors of all types. It was buzzing with activity as we walked from north to south. At the southern end near the Seaport Farmers Market, we stumbled upon Garrison Brewing. Actually I’m lying, we knew exactly where we’d find the brewery, and had already been drinking their beers elsewhere in Nova Scotia. We sat at an outdoor barrel table and drank a flight while killing time before our evening dinner reservation.
We ate well both nights we spent in Halifax. Immediately after our flights at Garrison Brewing, we walked back to the area of Grand Parade Park to The Five Fishermen, which specializes in seafood and steak. It was a great dining experience all around. The wood grilled fish menu, where you choose your type of fish and signature sauce, was a hit. On the second evening we walked a few blocks from our hotel to the North End neighborhood. We had scouted out a couple promising restaurants on Gottingen Street and selected EDNA for their unique menu. After dinner we hopped across the street to Field Guide for cocktails. These were our first proper cocktails since the manhattans at Glenora Distillery. It made me feel back in my element to have a boozy drink served in a coupe glass with an orange peel attached to the rim with a mini clothespin. Another drinking establishment we enjoyed was 2 Crows Brewing, conveniently located next door to our hotel. They focus on finely crafted modern beer styles and serve them out of a storefront facility on Brunswick Street that still has that new brewery smell.
The morning of our full day in town we made the short but steep hike up to the Halifax Citadel. This hilltop site has been home to some form of fortification since 1749 when Halifax was founded as Nova Scotia’s new capital. Over the years, four different defensive structures have protected the city and harbour, with the current one dating from 1856. After it became militarily obsolete, it fell into disrepair before finally being fully restored to its Victorian era appearance in the 1990s. Today it is managed by Parks Canada as a National Historic Site and features museum exhibits, presentations and re-enactments that define the role of the citadel and Halifax in North American history. For us it was especially interesting because we were now entering the British counterpoint to the Fortress of Louisbourg that we had just visited.
Heading up the hill near the stately town clock, we encountered a group of kilted 78th Highlander soldier re-enactors and a bagpiper on their way down from the citadel. If we’d learned anything thus far in Canada, it’s that bagpipers can appear suddenly and without warning. Once inside the walls, we watched the introductory video and wandered through the premises and various exhibits. Climbing the stairs to the top of the fortress wall highlights the hilltop’s obvious strategic advantage. Today the view includes eye-level office towers, but it’s still an impressive vantage point. One of the most popular displays at the citadel is the re-created World War I trenches. Walking through this small maze of two meter deep walkways provides an immersive experience of what it was like to be a Canadian soldier on the front lines in France. It is built to accurate scale and with the correct materials of wood planks, dirt and sandbags. Visitors could spend hours at the Citadel experiencing the full range of information, or if you’re just a fan of big bangs, show up for the daily shooting of the aptly-named “noon cannon.”
A great day trip out of Halifax is the town of Lunenburg. In 1995 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because nearly the entirety of the old town’s original British Colonial architecture is preserved. Colorful buildings line the Main Street that parallels the harbor that was home to the town’s famed shipbuilding industry. Quaint shops and restaurants fill the blocks closest to the water, while residential neighborhoods climb the hill behind them. The whole place looks like it should be on the cover of a puzzle box. It’s a good place to spend an afternoon eating fish and chips and doing some souvenir shopping or whale watching. The town also has a rich history of shipbuilding and is home to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.
On July 31, we said goodbye to Nova Scotia after 10 wonderful and busy days. We also said goodbye to the parents, who were dropped off at Halifax Stanfield International Airport. We exited the province by car this time, crossing the short land border with New Brunswick. Our next point of interest was Hopewell Rocks, on the shore of the Bay of Fundy. This bay is best known as having the largest tides in the world, with the water level varying by up to 16 meters (52 feet). Twice a day this huge tidal surge enters and exits the bay, repeatedly exposing and covering large areas of sea floor. At Hopewell Cape, this constant erosional force has created bizarre rock features that are slender at the bottom and get fatter at the top. At low tide, the pillars are fully exposed, but at high tide, it is possible to kayak around them. We were there around the peak of low tide, so swarms of visitors, not water swirled around the base of the rocks. We descended the staircase to the rocky beach and observed the rocks from below. They look like they could tip over at any moment. Admission to the park allows access for two days, so you can experience both high and low tides at your leisure, but we had places to be, so we moved on.
Our sleeping arrangements for the night were the fourth and final night of camping on our road trip. Fundy National Park was just down the road and we’d reserved a site at Point Wolfe Campground. Our site was number 68, located on a quiet loop at the side of the woodsy campground. This turned out to be our favorite site because of its nice level tent pad, movable picnic table and proximity to restroom facilities. It was also near enough to the adjacent campsites that we didn’t feel like we’d be eaten by a wild animal in the night without warning, but separated by nice stands of trees so we didn’t feel like we were right up in everyone’s business.
On our way into the park, we took a couple short hikes on the Dickson Falls and Shiphaven trails. Dickson Falls is a lovely 1.5 kilometer loop through a cool, shady forest with a moss-filled stream and the pretty waterfall for which it is named. Several parts of the trail are well-maintained boardwalks and there is a viewpoint right by the parking lot that looks out over the coastal bluffs. The Shiphaven trail is located just before the campground and is a leisurely stroll on boardwalks and stairs with views of the Point Wolfe River Estuary, which varies drastically in appearance depending on the tide. Panels explain the cultural history of the area and the trail ends with a view of the Point Wolfe covered bridge.
After having gotten used to wonderful restaurants in Halifax, we were not about to grill brats that evening, so we took a drive back to the town of Alma at the edge of the park. This village has a good variety of restaurants, plus a general store to fill any other camping (beer) needs. We selected An Octopus’ Garden Cafe for dinner, it has a casual ambiance but the food is top notch. One of the most memorable dishes of the trip was their Lobster Cocktail, a tasty salad of lobster and avocado served on a lettuce leaf. Add to that entrees of homemade pasta and we were very happy with our fancy dinner decision. It was approaching 7:30, so we ordered dessert to go, so as not to waste any more daylight. Back at site 68 the fire got going and we started in on the case of beer we bought in town. While unpacking some more supplies from of the car, I decided to set our desserts out on the picnic table. I should have learned my lesson from the squirrel situation at the Cape Breton Highlands campground, but apparently it hadn’t sunk in. When I turned from the trunk to the picnic table, a little squirrel was furiously trying to unfold the paper bag containing my lemon bar with his tiny fingers. Everyone in the area probably heard me yell “NICK! SQUIRREL!” as I ran to chase off the perpetrator. Nick, meanwhile, was waist deep in the trunk fetching something and claims to only have been aware of “some commotion.”
As darkness descended into the woods and beer descended into our bellies, the evening was pure relaxation until our next unexpected visitor. It was a different form of wildlife this time, the species known as “drunk girls.” At the campsite just above ours, there were two young ladies having some kind of a girls nature weekend. We had earlier noticed them talking and receiving approximately 15,000 texts, but didn’t pay too much attention. Then as we sat staring at our fire, a shadowy figure stumbled between some trees onto the road right in front of our site. She opened by asking if we drank beer, and offered us some in exchange for firewood, as they had used up their supply. We politely declined the watery swill they were guzzling, but gave her a few spare logs. She thanked us profusely and returned to her friend who then proceeded to grill her with loudly whispered questions about the guys at the next campsite: “Did you offer them beer?” “Did they know what that is?” “Did they seem nice?” “Are they English?” We could barely contain our laughter. Shortly after, one of them could barely contain her alcohol and vomited in the woods behind their tent.
The next morning we rose, made coffee, ate cinnamon rolls, took down the tent and hit the road. The day ahead of us would take us all the way to Montréal, by far the longest driving day of the trip. On the way out of Fundy, we took a quick walk around the Caribou Plain trail, a UNESCO “Fundy Biosphere Amazing Place.” There were no caribou out and about that morning unfortunately, so we set off to say bonjour au Québec.
Up Next: Home across Canada.
Previously: Fortress of Louisbourg
Previously: Cape Breton Island Part 2
Previously: Cape Breton Island Part 1
Previously: Nova Scotia – Annapolis Royal to Grand Pre
Previously: Nova Scotia – Digby to Keji
Previously: In & Around Bethel, Maine
Previously: Chicago to Maine